Sahil NathuComment

SEARCHING FOR ​SERVAAS

Sahil NathuComment
SEARCHING FOR ​SERVAAS

There was once a young Dutchman who stunned the country's footballing elite. Someone who opened the path for Johan Cruyff. A player who averaged almost a goal per game for the famous Oranje and, in doing so, held the national goal-scoring record for over three decades. The country’s darling - then it’s traitor. This is the story and recognition of a forgotten King. A time when Servaas Wilkes, better known as Faas, ruled. 

THE GOLDEN CARPENTER

Born in 1923 and the son of a carpenter, Faas showed a natural talent with the ball and was given his debut in 1941 at the tender age of 18. He signed for hometown club Xerxes Rotterdam, scoring in a 6-0 away win against CVV Gouda. 

Football was a secondary thought for Dutch fans and players due to the destructive World War which was tearing the country apart. Therefore, 1941-1949 of Faas's career encapsulated the ascent of the domestic game too. 

Servaas restarted the shortened football season of the 1945-1946 season slowly with a good goal-to-game ratio quickly helping Xerxes Rotterdam to establish themselves as one of Netherland's most elite teams. He continued to grow, hitting eight goals in 19 appearances before taking the next two seasons by storm with 19 in 24 and 21 in 25.

However, during this period, Xerxes never challenged for the national title and it was Faas's performances for the country that really stood out. Along with domestic stars Abel Lenstra and Kees Rijvers, the three made up what was known as the "Golden Inside Trio" - a deadly trio of inside forwards that had only one thing on their mind: goals. 

This started with his debut against Luxembourg (1946) as the striker hit four - equalling the record of Eddy de Neve - to see off a 6-2 win. Two months later, he hit a hat-trick against Belgium to complete the Benelux dominance. These results allowed the Dutch to enter the London's 1948 Olympic Games, where Faas took centre stage with two goals against Ireland in a play-off round. Their reward was to play hosts Great Britain. Still regarded as a powerhouse of the global game, the media predicted an easy rout for the home side. Instead, a thriller was played out in front of the bright lights of Highbury with Wilkes scoring twice in a 3-2 defeat. 

For the Golden Inside Trio, it was their only defeat together and they followed up their Olympic performance with a win against champions Sweden with Faas hitting the solo winner. 

With these performances, Servaas had given the country something powerful; the Dutch had imposed a presence in the continent and an athlete for citizens to claim as one of Europe’s elite. This was as good as a gold medal for a society still recovering its domestic and global confidence. 

However, these performances meant the glass ceiling of playing for Xerxes had arrived. The player had decided to leave and what proceeded would initiate seismic changes and debates in brown cafes across the nation. 

ENEMY OF THE STATE

‘Amsterdammer's dream while Rotterdam works’. 

To this day, Rotterdammers talk about Amsterdammers as those who hypotheses about the world in ivory towers while their port city drove post-world war production and became the engine pushing the economy forward. 

So for a city priding themselves on coming together for the region and country, what Faas did next was a betrayal of those values. It's important to understand this and that Dutch football was still amateur in a period where other European nations began to turn professional. This helped make Servaas a hot property and he was approached by Charlton Athletic in England, along with Italian and Spanish clubs. Instead, Faas and his goalkeeper sibling had agreed to join MVV Maastricht in exchange for two trucks that would help their family business. 

When news struck of this deal, there was an uproar from the national association KVNB and Xerves fans, along with other football lovers. Servaas was seen as a mercenary and received a season ban. Because of this and having lost four years already, Faas turned his back on Maastricht's offer and returned to Xerves instead, seeing the ban overturned. Eventually, he won back the adoring fans and ended the season with his highest goal return. 

However, he couldn't turn his back on the temptation to go professional and in 1949/1950 season he signed for a star-studded Inter Milan. Again, Faas had become tarnished as a player with no morals or integrity with KVNB banishing him from the national team for five years.

The fear of the country's biggest star going professional caused much talk for fans, but the KVNB's harsh action allowed them to create animosity against Faas and played upon Rotterdam's pride of working for the country's collective. In doing so, they deterred other elite Dutch players from going professional and losing their Oranje caps too.

Therefore, Servaas set off for Milano as a flying pirate. The fourth Dutchman to set off for foreign lands, but the first who had turned his back on the country. The King had been banished to a new footballing planet. 

SAINT OF THE SAN SIRO

At 26, Servaas was hitting his golden years.

The player would be joining a team full of talent with another top-heavy team and another golden trio of Faas, Istvan Nyers and Amedeo Amadei. They scored 67 goals in their first season together. The San Siro witnessed a symphony of attacks, and one game, in particular, represents the style of play that this early 1950s vintage offered. 

Three goals down to AC Milan and legendary Swedish triangle of Gre-No-Li, Servaas orchestrated the goals for his fellow attackers in a legendary 6-5 win. It was ironic as the Dutchman had frustrated his teammates for the need to dribble multiple players instead of passing (something that Abel Lenstra also believed about his style of play). It alludes to an even higher potential that Faas could provide to the team with the right mindset as yet again the Scudetto passed him, with Inter finishing second to Juventus. 

The following season saw further improvement from Faas as he hit 23 goals in 38 games. Servaas was a Saint of San Siro with the fans fondly nicknaming him after Netherlands national flower Il Tulipano. But it wasn't enough to win the title, as city enemy's AC took it by a single point. Even worse for Servaas, the following season saw a serious knee injury curtail a title challenge with only seven goals as Inter slipped to third place. 

With injury slowing Faas down and impacting his individual style of play, the Dutchman moved on to Turin to take on the key role in rebuilding Torino in the years after losing their championship winning team in the Superga air disaster. Unfortunately, the 1952-1953 season saw further injuries and just one goal scored in 12 games. 

He needed to fly again, but he left Italy as a brilliant success. To this day his picture hangs in the San Siro and the return of 48 goals in 107 still, makes him one of the most deadly in Serie A history. 

And for Faas, he was not done yet. Something else awaited the Il Tulipano. 

THE BATMAN RETURNS

In the 1950s, Real Madrid had Di Stefano and Barcelona had Kubala. However, Valencia fans didn't look in envy at their neighbouring rivals in the mid-50s for an idol. They had Servaas. 

A change of scenery saw a resurrection for a player written off. In his first full season, he hit 18 goals in 28 and got his reward with the first major trophy - the Copa Del Rey. In the final, The Bats dismantled the famous Barcelona side. 

The following seasons saw Faas on the decline but hitting 9 in 15 and 11 in 19. This allowed Valencia to become the third team in Spain, with the El Clasico's stranglehold becoming more powerful as the game became more global and talents came from further lands.

It was something that his homeland and the KVNB could no longer ignore as 1954 saw the country become professional. This meant Faa's ban from the national team was over and a call-up with Netherlands. Servaas picked up where he left off in 1950 - scoring goals for the country. 

The Dutchman was Oranje again and was ready to share his continental growth with his peers. 

THE TORCH IS PASSED

Surprisingly, Faas returned home but not to join any of the bigger Dutch clubs. Instead, he elected to play for VV Venlo. His age and even higher salary put off the bigger teams of Amsterdam and Feyenoord Rotterdam. He continued to hit an excellent record for the Dutch too, who just missed out on qualifications for the 1958 World Cup.

In the final years of his career, Faas played for Levante, Fortuna and his now diminished hometown Xerves with respectable goal records. Unfortunately, time caught up with the striker, and in 1961 he scored his last goal for Netherlands vs. West Germany in a 1-1 draw. His record of 35 in 38 was held for over 30 years until Dennis Bergkamp passed it over the watchful gaze of Faas himself and who had described the Iceman as a player of the same heart.

And as his final season drew to a close in 1964, a young number fourteen at Ajax emerged to evolve upon the house that Faas built. 

THE LEGACY OF KING I

In 1999, Servaas was invited to play in a game honouring the greatest of Oranje and organised by Johan Cruyff. It was here that the Ajax man told of his love for Faas as a child. In many ways, the two were players who led their Dutch generation into the future. Johan united the Dutch to play the game together in a way unseen and dominating on the biggest stages. 

Meanwhile, Servaas was someone who represented the first individual talents required to inspire a war-torn country to be proud of what Dutch sportsmen can accomplish and put the nation on the footballing map. Foundations were also something Servaas helped create for Inter's dominance of Europe in the early 1960's as well. 

Sadly, Faas passed away in 2006 and is relatively unknown to a younger football audience, both in the Netherlands and outside of it. That is why he shouldn't be forgotten as his performances, transfers and travels allowed Oranje to grow into what it has become today. 

And so to the words of the man himself. 

‘I was no goal getter like Van Hooijdonk or Kluivert. I was more footballer, a dribbler, ball at his feet and go. But if I made a goal it was a nice one.’ 

And there were a whole lot of them, which is why Il Tulipano lives on in 2017 and beyond. Dankjewel Faas, King of Oranje I.

By Sahil Nathu. Follow him on Twitter here

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